Australasian Spartacist No. 226
From the Archives of Workers Vanguard
Vietnam 40 Years Ago:
U.S./Australian Imperialism Defeated, Capitalist Rule Smashed
April 30 was the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, marking the defeat of U.S. and Australian imperialism and their South Vietnamese puppet forces. The heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants fought not just for national liberation but also for social revolution. Soon after, Pathet Lao guerrilla insurgents in Laos gained state power as well, establishing a regime there based on proletarian property forms in conjunction with Vietnam, its more advanced neighbour. These social overturns in the former French colony of Indochina humiliated the imperialists and were a victory for the exploited and oppressed around the world.
The brutal, decades-long war in Vietnam led to massive discontent and protest in the U.S. and Australia and radicalised a whole generation of youth. Self-described socialists and ex-radicals nostalgic for the massive demonstrations of the Vietnam War era peddle the myth that the anti-war movement ended the war. But it was the tenacity of the Vietnamese fighters on the battlefield that broke the imperialists’ will and drove them out of the country.
It remains the duty of revolutionaries to stand for the unconditional military defence of Vietnam, Laos and the other deformed workers states—China, Cuba and North Korea—against imperialist attack and domestic counterrevolution. The main target of imperialism in the region is China, the largest and most powerful of the remaining countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown.
The Stalinist nationalist regime in Vietnam has in recent years criminally lined up with the U.S. imperialists’ campaign to encircle China. This diplomatic rapprochement with the U.S. reflects Vietnam’s isolation following the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, as well as the continuing pressures of poverty and the historic mutual animosity between Vietnam and its larger and stronger Chinese neighbour. The Trotskyist program of proletarian political revolution—the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracies and the establishment of governments based on workers, peasants and soldiers councils—is linked to the strategy of socialist revolutions worldwide to put an end to the imperialist order.
We reprint below an article from the Spartacist League/U.S. published in Workers Vanguard No. 68 (9 May 1975) headlined “Take Vientiane—For Political Revolution in Hanoi, Saigon, Phnom Penh—All Indochina Must Go Communist! Capitalist Class Rule Smashed in Vietnam, Cambodia!” The article reflects our initial characterisation that Cambodia was also a deformed workers state. However, we later noted that Cambodia under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which decimated the tiny proletariat and depopulated whole cities, was “a barbaric nightmare which was not even a hideously deformed version of a workers state” (“U.S., China Arm Pol Pot Butchers,” Workers Vanguard No. 493, 12 January 1990).
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MAY 4—On April 30 the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and the National Liberation Front (NLF) rode triumphantly into Saigon as leaders of the defeated puppet regime and the South Vietnamese bourgeoisie fled the country by every available means. The military victory of the DRV/NLF marks the end of 30 years of civil war against colonialism and imperialism and their local allies. It means the overthrow of capitalist rule in South Vietnam, a historic conquest for the working people of the entire world and one which must be unconditionally defended by class-conscious workers against imperialist attack.
We hail this stunning defeat of U.S. imperialism, the first in a major war during this century, and greet the victory of our class brothers and sisters in Indochina with internationalist proletarian solidarity. The struggle against the imperialists’ Vietnam war has also been a major task of socialists in the imperialist centers, dominating the political experience of a whole generation of young aspiring revolutionaries. And it is as fellow combatants in the international class struggle that we warn the Indochinese masses that they must place no confidence in their Stalinist leaders.
The victory in Vietnam, like that in Cambodia two weeks earlier when the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh, belongs to the heroic worker and peasant fighters in Indochina who have struggled resourcefully and tenaciously for decades in order to break the grip of imperialist domination and capitalist exploitation on the peninsula. But while a victorious social revolution has occurred, the struggle to establish revolutionary and internationalist workers states in the region is far from over. A phantom coalition with venal rightist generals and a playboy “neutralist” continues to “rule” in Vientiane [the capital of Laos], although it is clear to all that it could be quickly eliminated by a resolute offensive of the Pathet Lao.
Meanwhile, in Cambodia and Vietnam (both North and South) political power is not in the hands of the working masses, expressed by democratic rule through Soviets (workers councils) as was achieved by the Russian Revolution of 1917. Nor is there in Indochina today a Bolshevik party which could lead the revolutionary struggle forward by extending it internationally to the centers of world capitalism. The new Stalinist rulers in Phnom Penh and Saigon are as committed to the treacherous policy of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism as those in Moscow and Peking, or Hanoi and Havana.
Instead, what has been created in South Vietnam and Cambodia are deformed workers states, qualitatively equivalent to the degenerated workers state which emerged in Russia with the consolidation of the Stalin-led bureaucracy. The ruling bureaucracies of the deformed workers states are narrowly nationalist in outlook, attempting to balance precariously between imperialism and the working class. Based on the property forms of a workers state, they occasionally put up a limited and distorted defense of the social conquests achieved by the overthrow of capitalism in order to preserve their own privileged position.
But because their rule is based on the political expropriation of the working class, these petty-bourgeois bureaucratic castes are incapable of mobilizing the proletarian masses for an international revolutionary assault on the bastions of world capitalism, since it would simultaneously mean their own demise. The Stalinist rulers in Hanoi, Saigon and Phnom Penh must be overthrown by a workers’ political revolution led by a Trotskyist party in order to establish the organs of proletarian democracy and open the road to socialism. All Indochina Must Go Communist!
Military Victory and Social Revolution
The cost of these momentous victories in terms of human suffering by the toilers of Vietnam has been tremendous. The barbarous policies of the cynical mass murderers of U.S. imperialism and French colonialism—the “free fire zones” subjected to saturation bombing by B-52’s, the “pacification programs” consisting of the assassination of all political opponents of the puppet regimes, the “strategic hamlets” which sought to eliminate the insurgents’ popular support by locking up peasants in concentration camps—have produced millions of dead and maimed.
But still the Indochinese workers and peasants fought on, driven by a burning desire not only to be rid of the pimps and butchers who sat in air-conditioned offices in Saigon, but also to remove the daily oppression inexorably caused by capitalist exploitation. At a tremendous disadvantage in terms of firepower and sophisticated weaponry—the result of the refusal of the USSR and China to deliver adequate military supplies—they were able to militarily defeat the cream of the French army, the largest U.S. expeditionary forces since World War II (over 500,000 American military personnel in Vietnam at one point), and the most mechanized army in Asia.
However, the program of the bureaucracies in Hanoi, Peking and Moscow who led, controlled and supplied the insurgents was not to carry out a social revolution through defeating the bourgeoisie. Justifying their appetites for class collaboration by the Stalinist schema of “two-stage revolution,” they sought to achieve “democratic” (i.e., bourgeois) governments of national reconciliation of all classes save the imperialists and their most direct lackeys. This was expressed in programs (such as those of the South Vietnamese NLF and Cambodian FUNK) which called for popular-front coalition governments with the bourgeoisie, omitting demands for agrarian revolution and guaranteeing the “right” of capitalists to continue to exploit their wage slaves; and in repeated sellouts at the bargaining table (especially 1945 and 1954).
But while the Stalinist leaders remained committed to a strategy of betrayal and class collaboration, they were also confronted with fundamental historical and social realities. The extreme weakness of the Vietnamese bourgeoisie which prevented it from rebelling against French colonial and U.S. imperialist domination made that coterie of drug traffickers, rice merchants, rack-renting landlords, corrupt military mercenaries, textile sweatshop bosses, rubber plantation managers and Honda salesmen doubly afraid of any mobilization of the exploited masses. Although the NLF and FUNK continued to call for the formation of coalition governments until scant hours before they marched into their respective capitals, the fabled anti-imperialist national bourgeoisie never materialized. To the lasting benefit of the Indochinese laboring masses, the Paris “peace” accords were never implemented.
Though DRV/NLF military forces fought well and defeated the puppet troops in the only two real battles of the last six weeks (Ban Me Thuot and Xuan Loc), the fall of Saigon came not as a result of a successful insurgent offensive, properly speaking, but because of the complete collapse of the Thieu regime and army. A single defeat in the Central Highlands produced a panicked retreat that put DRV/NLF forces within 50 miles of the capital in two weeks, practically without firing a shot.
The scenes of this jumbled collapse dominated the news from Vietnam during the last days of the puppet government. The wild looting and chaotic terror unleashed in Da Nang by drunken bands of ARVN [South Vietnamese army] soldiers was succeeded by the desperate clawing of Saigon merchants and collaborators to get into the U.S. embassy and join the select circle of those who would get a ticket to America from President Ford. While Thieu and Lon Nol sent off a final shipment of $16 million in gold bullion to Switzerland, well-connected prostitutes and wives of military officers began arriving in Guam by the plane-load. The predominance of air force families among the early passengers was explained by a threat from Saigon fighter pilots to shoot down the C-130s if their relatives were not included.
Subsequent news reports are extremely sketchy. Some reports quoted official broadcasts from Saigon as “announcing the nationalization of banks and virtually all other business and industrial enterprises” (New York Times, 2 May); administrative authority was reportedly being exercised by the Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Management Committee. In any case, it is clear that the ignominious collapse of the U.S.’ puppet government, was accompanied by the flight of the bulk of the devastated bourgeoisie. The fall of Saigon was the fall of Vietnamese capitalism as a political force.
45 Years of Struggle Against Imperialism
The struggle of the Indochinese masses against colonial oppression and the yoke of capitalist exploitation goes back well past the end of World War II. The Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) was formed in 1930 and led an important peasant revolt in central Vietnam during the same year. During the late 1930’s, however, the Stalinist ICP faced considerable competition from two Trotskyist groups, particularly in southern Vietnam. One, the International Communist League (ICL) led by Ho Huu Tuong, was founded in 1931, while the second, larger, group around Ta Thu Thau was in a common front with the southern Stalinists from 1933 to 1937. As the ICP was obliged by Kremlin dictates and its program of class collaboration to give support to French colonialism during the period of the popular-front government in Paris, the Trotskyists were able to greatly expand their influence. In 1939 Thau’s group swamped the Stalinists in colonial elections, winning 80 percent of the votes, as the masses decisively rejected Ho Chi Minh’s support for “progressive” colonialism.
In August 1945 the Stalinists (now known as the Viet Minh) moved together with bourgeois nationalists to take over the French-Japanese colonial government apparatus as the Japanese surrender was announced. However, when British troops entered Saigon they were greeted by the Viet Minh, in line with Stalin’s policy of alliance with the Western “democratic” imperialists during World War II. In contrast, the Trotskyist ICL called for opposition to the imperialists, agrarian revolution, expropriation of the bourgeoisie and a workers and peasants government.
The ICL’s call did not remain simply on paper, but found a mass response as scores of “people’s committees” were formed in the Saigon area, the dominant influence in them being that of the Trotskyists. Although the Stalinist police succeeded in arresting and shooting most of the leaders, a working-class uprising broke out a few days later in response to British-French moves to take power from the popular-front “government.” While the Viet Minh negotiated, to no avail, the Trotskyist-led resistance went down fighting.
The Trotskyists had also been active in the north, but there the domination of the Viet Minh was unchallenged. As Ho was preparing to sign an agreement permitting the reintroduction of French troops in early 1946, the witchhunt against Trotskyists was intensified. Ta Thu Thau was murdered on orders from Stalinist leaders at that time, as were virtually all remaining Trotskyist cadre. Thus, if since 1946 the Stalinist leaders have been dominant in Vietnam, it is not because of a revolutionary line but rather because of the efficiency of their assassination squads.
After the reintroduction of colonial troops (with the assent of Ho Chi Minh), the Stalinists were forced to abandon the cities and retreat into guerrilla warfare. However, by 1954 they had been able to inflict a military defeat on the French army, not only in the north but throughout Indochina. While Russian and Chinese pressure was instrumental in inducing the Viet Minh negotiators at Geneva to abandon everything below the 17th parallel (as well as Laos and Cambodia), decisive victory was within reach. Thus Ho’s agreement to the Geneva deal was another sharp blow against the struggle of the Indochinese masses.
With the change in the imperialist paymasters from Paris to more affluent Washington the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem was able to partially stabilize South Vietnam for a couple of years through the use of ruthless terror. Peasants were driven off their land, suspected Communists were “tried” by special tribunals and murdered by the hundreds. Sporadic resistance sprang up, often led by underground former Viet Minh cadre who had stayed behind. But not until 1960 when the National Liberation Front was formed did Hanoi give any appreciable aid to the southern rebels. Ho’s concern was above all to scrupulously respect the terms of the Geneva sellout, vainly hoping that the butcher Diem would allow “free elections”!
The subsequent intervention of large numbers of U.S. troops represented a major setback for the NLF and DRV. But with the massacre of several hundred thousand workers and peasants in Indonesia, accomplishing an important objective of imperialism in the area, and given the absence of any prospect of victory for the Saigon regime, and the active hostility to U.S. intervention among large sections of American youth and increasingly in the working class, the basis was laid for the development of widespread bourgeois defeatism. This was not confined to peace demonstrations or McCarthy/McGovern left liberals, but became the dominant position of decisive sections of the ruling class. As economic problems multiplied and the U.S.’ inability to continue playing the role of hegemonic world policeman became clearer, the Nixon regime moved toward negotiations finally resulting in the so-called Paris “peace” accords of 1973.
These accords did not lead to peace in Vietnam, and represented the extortion of concessions by the imperialists in return for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. While declaring “No Support to the Robbers’ Peace!” the Spartacist League also recognized an important difference from the 1954 sellout, the “ceasefire in-place,” i.e., the continued presence of large numbers of DRV/NLF troops in the south. We judged that the ceasefire “could well eventually lead to a Viet Cong victory in the South,” but pointed out that this was a gamble and did not represent a change in the Stalinists’ strategy of betrayal. When the NLF victory finally came, two years later, it was because of the military collapse of the puppet regime. Finding no substantial force with which to make a coalition government, the Stalinists finally were forced to take Saigon on their own.
Where Are the Two Stages?
Thus the history of the struggle in Vietnam, far from demonstrating the validity of Stalinist conceptions and “strategy” in fact reveals a series of attempts to sell out gains won on the battlefield in return for a compromise with imperialism. The recent events in Indochina fully confirm the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution, which holds that in the backward countries even the democratic tasks of national emancipation and agrarian revolution can only be solved by the dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasantry. The weak bourgeoisies of these areas, closely linked to domestic feudal reaction and imperialism, are incapable of carrying out a bourgeois revolution.
The Stalinists claim that their calls for coalition governments, popular fronts, a “bloc of four classes” and so on correspond to the first stage of “national-democratic,” “popular-democratic,” or “new democratic” revolution. Now they claim the victories in Vietnam and Cambodia as validation for their line. This is a fraud.
The NLF, for its part, was quite clear what it stood for. Wilfred Burchett, writing in the 2 April issue of the Maoist Guardian, reported an interview with PRG [Provisional Revolutionary Government] representatives in Paris: “Asked why the PRG did not aim at taking over completely in the South, in view of the wholesale collapse of Thieu’s armed forces, Dinh Ba Thi said, ‘We are for the strict implementation of the Paris Agreements which call for national reconciliation and coalition government’.” He added only that Thieu must go.
Thieu went. “Big Minh” was brought to the presidential palace, but there was no coalition government. And official announcements by the PRG no longer mention the Paris peace agreement. Where, then, are the two stages?
One group which believes there is some truth in the “two-stage” theory is the ex-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. In a front-page National Committee statement in the Militant (9 May), the SWP hails “the victory of the Vietnamese rebels” and announces that “The objective conditions also exist for a social revolution to abolish the entire system of exploitation for private profit.”
This last sentence evidently means the SWP believes that a capitalist state still exists in South Vietnam. Not only does this ignore the powerful social revolution which has taken place, and the fact that capitalist rule can only be restored by a violent counterrevolution, but it fundamentally revises the Leninist theory of the state. Presumably if it decides next week or next month that nationalizations reportedly carried out by the PRG include the key sectors of the economy, then the SWP will declare South Vietnam to be some kind of a workers state. (It holds that China did not become a deformed workers state until the major nationalizations were carried out at the time of the Korean war.) But this amounts to a “peaceful transition” to a workers state!
The expropriation of the decisive sectors of the economy is indeed a key element of a workers state. But the state is at bottom an armed body of men committed to defending certain property forms. Thus Russia became a workers state in 1917, when the Bolsheviks took power and established soviet rule. The nationalizations came later.
The situation is different when the leaders of the revolution are not a proletarian Marxist party but a Stalinist bureaucracy based on a peasant guerrilla army. Neither the peasantry as a class nor the Stalinists as a political force are committed to establishing a workers state. The NLF has stated as much, on many occasions, and given ample proof of its intentions. But having taken power alone, without an alliance with significant bourgeois forces, and faced with the massive exit of the South Vietnamese bourgeoisie, the Stalinists are forced to establish the property forms of a workers state in order to revive production and above all to defend their rule against imperialist attack.
Toward a Communist Indochina
The victory of the Cambodian and Vietnamese Stalinists and the overthrow of capitalist rule in those two countries have occurred under exceptional circumstances: extreme disorganization of the native bourgeoisie, economic and political difficulties of the imperialists which have prevented renewed U.S. intervention, and above all the absence of the working class organized to fight in its own interests.
The regime which they establish does not, and cannot, base itself on organs of proletarian democracy, but rather on the fiat of a bonapartist bureaucracy. The task of Marxists in Vietnam and Cambodia today is to take forward the revolutionary struggle by fighting for a workers’ political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy, demanding the creation of democratic workers councils as the basis for the new state apparatus, and freedom for all parties which defend the revolution against counterrevolutionary attack. Above all, the struggle to go forward to final victory over capitalism requires the construction of Trotskyist parties, in Indochina and throughout the world, as part of a reborn Fourth International.
• Immediate Recognition of the Khmer Rouge and NLF/PRG Governments in Cambodia and Vietnam!
• Immediate Withdrawal of All U.S. Forces from Southeast Asia!
• Extend the Soviet Nuclear Shield to Cover Hanoi, Saigon and Phnom Penh!
• Take Vientiane! For Political Revolution in Cambodia and Vietnam (North and South)! All Indochina Must Go Communist!
• For Trotskyist Parties in Indochina! Forward to the Rebirth of the Fourth International!